I had an early start this morning- leaving the house at 7.30 am for a two hour drive. As ever, BBC radio 4 was my faithful companion on the road…
And of course, the morning news was full of the current world financial crisis, brought about by the so-called ‘credit crunch’ and the collapse of an American bank sending shock waves round the world’s stock markets.
We await to see whether the giant insurance firm AIG, responsible for trillions of dollars investments, will topple and fall over also.
We are finding out that when a butterfly flaps in the windows of a wall street office, then not even a post office account in sleepy Argyll is unaffected by the resultant tidal waves of monetary insecurity.
And no-one seems to have any clear idea of what happens next. It is almost as if the animal that we created now has a will of its own, and a malevolent will at that… The radio carried interviews of doom mongers, and other folk seeming to suggest that the worst was over, and we just needed to stop the panic, which was the cause of the whole thing in the first place.
And then there was this other discussion- about the nature of the capitalist system itself, and the greed at the heart of it all.
And we remember again the words uttered by the fictional stock broker Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film ‘Wall Street’ (played brilliantly by Michael Douglas)- Greed is good…
Gekko has become an iconic figure, acting as an archetypal capitalist, but in the process asking questions about the meaning and nature of a culture built on the pursuit of MORE, always MORE. Capitalism, and neo-liberal economics rule the economic roost at the moment, and no-one seems to be able to challenge the ideological truth of ‘trickle-down’ benefits of the creation of wealth, and the release of entrepreneurial aspiration, red in tooth and claw.
This morning, world renowned economists were asked whether they thought that this crisis had been brought about by greed. Both replied that they thought that it had. They thought that some greed was needed- but there had been too much!
They described how a long period (16 years) of economic growth had resulted in complacency and increased risk taking on the part of bankers, stock brokers and financiers. And how ‘rocket scientists’ (a euphemism for people who design ever more complicated financial products in order to seek out profit) have designed complicated financial processed that are not understood by most of the people whose companies are selling them.
Many of the huge profits generated by the banks have been made by selling and buying products with borrowed money. Sometimes, the borrowing ratio to the assets of banks can be 30-40-even 50 to 1. This is fine as long as there is lots of money sloshing around the system, but it only takes a few variables to change- interest rates, commodity and fuel prices, economic slow down, the rise of the Far East, etc etc, and suddenly, apparently impregnable banks are dreadfully exposed and vulnerable.
These are, after all, human institutions, made after our own image.
But we are made in the image of God are we not? And as a Christian, I find myself experiencing dissonance with any system that depends on greed and grasping as the engine of its very survival. Is there really no other way? Do I have to be complicit with this way of living?
I have a mortgage and a car loan from the Bank of Scotland. This bank has lost 40% of it’s share price in the last two days. Who knows what the future is for the BOS, and for my accounts?
But, is this the most pressing economic reality pressing in on our culture? Is Capitalism really working? Or is it serving only the narrow interests of people like me, who experience many of its benefits at the expense of those who do not?
Is the real economic crisis to be found in a world in which things like this are ever present;
So what on earth can be, or should be our response?
I am humbled again. Reminded that my storehouse is not on earth, but in heaven.
And that when I serve the least of these, I serve Jesus.